The Bangor football program has now won seven consecutive Scenic Bluffs championships without picking up a single loss along the way. To clinch a share of their latest league title, the Cardinals had to survive the biggest scare of their ongoing 42-game conference winning streak.
The Cardinals (6-0 overall, 6-0 Scenic Bluffs) took a late lead on a touchdown in the dying seconds of regulation to stave off a spirited Cashton effort and outlast the Eagles (5-1, 5-1) 34-28 in a battle of the final two unbeaten teams in the Scenic Bluffs Conference Friday, April 30 in Bangor.
During this incredible run of conference success, Bangor had not just won every game against conference competition since the start of the 2014 season; the Cardinals tallied double-digit victories in each game of their current winning streak.
That finally changed Friday night, even though it looked like it would be the same old story in the early going.
Bangor opened the scoring when senior quarterback Hank Reader ran in a four-yard touchdown and Nate Crenshaw converted the extra point for a 7-0 lead with 7:39 left in the first quarter. The next touchdown came in the first minute of the second quarter when sophomore running back Tanner Jones broke free for a 30-yard touchdown run.
Five minutes later, junior Mathieu Oesterle punched in a two-yard touchdown run to give the Cardinals a 21-0 lead. Suddenly, it felt like the game was quickly trending toward the sort of Bangor blowout that’s become commonplace in the Scenic Bluffs over the last seven years.
Instead, Cashton did what no conference foe has managed to do in ages: fire back with a stiff counterpunch that forced the Cardinals to buckle down in the fourth quarter.
The Eagles were able to put together a touchdown drive before halftime that ended with sophomore quarterback Jacob Huntzicker connecting with junior Dylan Bayer for an 11-yard touchdown pass. Cashton still trailed 21-6 at halftime, but that late touchdown gave the team at least some hope they’d be able to still put up a fight.
The second half began with another Cashton touchdown drive, ending on a 22-yard touchdown run from sophomore running back Colin O’Neil, who also added a conversion run to cut the deficit to 21-14.
Bangor would fumble the ongoing fumble and the Eagles pounced on the loose ball. On the very next play, O’Neil got loose for a 27-yard touchdown run. Though the two-point try was unsuccessful, Cashton suddenly only trailed 21-20 fewer than three minutes into the third quarter.
The Cardinals did momentarily settle things down with a methodical touchdown drive that was capped off with a five-yard touchdown run from senior running back Zach Servais, pushing the lead back out to 28-20 with 5:07 to go in the third quarter.
Cashton remained undeterred. The Eagles would eventually get another touchdown run — this time from five yards out — early in the fourth quarter. O’Neil also punched in the two-point run to level the score at 28-28 with 11:18 to play.
A tie game in the fourth quarter against a conference foe itself was uncharted territory for Bangor, and the Eagles kept at it. Cashton got the ball back with a chance to take the lead and pushed the ball just into Bangor territory before an intentional grounding penalty helped stall out the drive. The Cardinals forced a punt and then went to work with their biggest drive of the season.
Bangor moved down the field in a methodical march, chewing up yardage and precious clock with its potent rushing attack. The Cardinals eventually found the end zone on a two-yard touchdown run by Jones with just 18 seconds remaining. Though Crenshaw did miss his first extra point of the night in five tries, Bangor still held a 34-28 lead with little time left.
Despite the long odds now facing them, the Eagles still didn’t go quietly. They completed a desperation pass to at least set them up with one final heave toward the end zone. However, their Hail Mary went unanswered, and the Cardinals escaped to snag a share of another conference crown.
Oesterle compiled 125 rushing yards and a touchdown on 21 carries, Jones went for 114 yards and two touchdowns on 12 attempts and Servais added 93 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries for a Bangor rushing attack that put up a combined 362 yards and five touchdowns on 61 attempts.
For the Eagles, Huntzicker completed 10 of 13 passes for 172 yards, one touchdown and one interception, Bayer caught three passes for 76 yards and a touchdown and O’Neil ran for 114 yards and three touchdowns on 23 carries.
Letting the opportunity to pull off a program-altering win over its rival that would’ve ensured a share of a Scenic Bluffs title obviously stung, but Cashton had little reason to hang its head Friday night. Moral victories are still moral victories, but the gap between Bangor and Cashton was the smallest it has been in years this season.
“Just to go toe to toe with them and be in a game with Bangor, that’s not something we’ve done for years,” said Cashton head coach Jered Hemmersbach. “Even though we lost on the scoreboard, that was our next step as a program. Another layer.”
The Eagles could still get a share of the Scenic Bluffs championship depending on how Week 7 shakes out. Bangor is hosting Royall (5-1, 5-1) and Cashton welcomes in Necedah (4-2, 4-2) Friday, May 7 with both games slated to begin at 7 p.m.
A Royall win over Bangor and a Cashton victory against Necedah means Bangor, Cashton and Royall would all share of piece of the conference title.
But conference championship or not, this season has already been a rousing success for the Eagles. They went 4-23 from 2016 to 2018, including an 0-9 campaign in 2018, before making a step in the right direction and returning to the playoffs last season.
Now, Cashton is a program with a robust roster featuring plenty of players that will be back this fall. Friday’s game, despite being a loss, was one of the strongest indicators yet of the progress the team has made.
“The distance (between Cashton and Bangor) isn’t as far as it was in the past. I look at it as a ladder. We finally got to maybe that top rung of the ladder, and now it’s just getting over that last rung,” Hemmersbach said. “We’ve been working our way toward that for a few years and to be able to be in that game — there’s now belief there. Now the next step is doing it.”